Few expected England to be heading into the fourth test of an Ashes series that, prior to its start, they were widely predicted to lose with a chance to seal possession of the famous urn even before the final Test match. Even fewer would have forecast it after the horror show that was their performance in the second test at Lord’s.
Nevertheless, following a dominant display at Edgbaston, that is the position that they now find themselves in ahead of tomorrow’s fourth Test at Trent Bridge. The fact that, even with the injury to their pace spearhead James Anderson, there is a degree of expectation, rather the usual blind optimism, amongst England fans speaks volumes.
There is much cause for that optimism. The pendulum of press criticism that has swung violently throughout this series is once again pressed firmly against Australia. Their captain Michael Clarke has issued a furious denial that he is coming to the end of his career, while the mutterings about the way that wicket-keeper Brad Haddin was dropped after missing the second test to be with his ill daughter have continued to linger barely beneath the surface.
Allied to this is the fact that, despite Anderson’s injury – he is currently in a frantic rush to be fit for the final Test at The Oval – the bowling attack actually still looks strong in a manner that it wouldn’t have done not so long ago in his absence.
Stuart Broad has strung together three of the better tests of his career and looks able to take on the role of attack leader, while Steven Finn’s dramatic return at Edgbaston has allayed some of the worries over pace bowling depth. In addition, Mark Wood is expected to be fit again after missing the last test with an ankle injury.
Australia, though, continue to possess a pace attack that is probably the best in world cricket. If their batsmen can post anything like a substantial total then they have every chance of levelling things up. Mitchell Johnson has frequently looked the most dangerous bowler on either side, while Josh Hazlewood is the leading wicket-taker in the series, and the best of Mitchell Starc is surely still to be seen.
The fact is probably that neither of these sides is quite world class, making every Test match between them deliciously unpredictable. Australia give the impression, certainly in their batting line-up, of the end of an era, while England’s recent run of performances in Test matches (won in Grenada, lost in Barbados, won at Lord’s, lost at Headingley, won at Cardiff, lost at Lord’s, won at Edgbaston) is the dictionary definition of inconsistency. One thing that does appear almost certain, given the weather forecast and the way that the two sides play, is that it won’t be a draw.
The pitch will again be key, with ESPNcricinfo noting that it currently “resembles the one at Edgbaston far more than it does those at Cardiff or Lord’s.” Another four-day finish is on the cards, but the identity of the winning team is difficult to predict.